Spring 2021 Magazine

Alabama head coach Nate Oats leans on Bible as team aims to finish season strong

The Alabama men’s basketball team and coach Nate Oats are gearing up for their season finale Saturday at Missouri and the SEC Tournament next week. They’ll need to rebound quickly after getting upset Tuesday night by Vanderbilt, which was inspired to give fans back home in Nashville something to cheer about after at least 24 people were killed when tornadoes struck Nashville and other parts of Tennessee.

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Alabama sits at 16-14 and would need a really strong finish to get into the NCAA Tournament. Oats hopes his players learned a lesson Tuesday night. Before the game, the coach referenced Proverbs 16:18 when cautioning his team in looking past Vanderbilt, a team that had only one conference win this season prior to knocking off the Crimson Tide.

“I try to read the Bible every morning,” said Oats, who’s in his first year at Alabama. “I gave them a Bible verse. I told them they might be able to quote it with me. ‘Pride cometh before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.’ I think it was applicable 3,000 years ago. It’s still applicable today. So let’s make sure we’re not overlooking anybody, that we don’t have a spirit about us that we don’t have to bring an effort. We do.”

Oats came to Alabama after a successful run as head coach at the University of Buffalo, where he led the Bulls to three NCAA tournament appearances, including runs to the second round in both 2018 and 2019. He was named MAC Coach of the Year twice and guided Buffalo to three MAC Tournament Championships in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

He appeared on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in October, and talked about his career and how his faith has been shaped throughout his life. Oats grew up in a Christian home with a father owning a Ph.D in Theology. He went through a season early in his life where he doubted his faith, but at 16 years old he dedicated his life to God.

Oats was coaching in high school just six years ago and has quickly risen through the coaching ranks. That early success came at a cost, though. He was so focused on his career that time with his wife and family took a hit. He described it as him “drifting.”

He said he’s always stressed high character with his players, and over the course of his career he’s grown as a man, as a husband and as a father. His family is much more involved in his coaching career now.

“The better man you are, the better human being, the higher character you have, the more likely it is you’ll be successful at whatever you do,” he said on the podcast. “So as a high school coach, I worked extremely hard and put in a lot of time. I looked out for my kids. But I felt like I let my wife and family down a little bit. I wasn’t around as much as I needed to be. I put too much time in it.

“I really think once I got my wife and kids more involved with this, I became a better husband and father. I think it makes you a better coach, to be honest with you. You’re a better man. You relate better with people. You learn how to communicate with people better.”

The catalyst for that change happened during his first year at Buffalo when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He called it a “wake-up call.”

“There were circumstances surrounding that where I had to make some decisions about whether I wanted to be the Christian man that I said I was, or whether I wanted to be hypocritical,” Oats said. “I didn’t want that. So in the last four years — three-and-a-half years or so — I really had a lot of introspection to where you evaluate where you’re at as a man and what you want.

“I really want my children to know me as a Christian father that demonstrates what it means to be a Christian to them. My wife can turn to me as the head of the house and really trust me as a Christian husband and father leading our family.”

Oats will lead Alabama against Missouri at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, with the SEC Tournament beginning Wednesday.

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